Part of the  

Chip Design Magazine


About  |  Contact

Satellite Crowdfunding, Then and Now

Did you know that the first satellite sent up by the United States was originally planned to be crowdfunded? Did you also know that the newest amateur satellite sent up in the third quarter of next year will be crowdfunded as well?

While researching a project on how fringe physics ideas make the transition to the mainstream, I came across this gem of a magazine from 1958.

The magazine’s first article discussed the birth of the Earth Satellite Vehicle, (ESV), program, as it was called at the time.  The main players followed by the article were Fred Singer, Andy Haley, and George Trimble.  Fred was an up and coming physicists from the University of Maryland, Andy was the head of the American Rocket Society, and George was an engineer working for Martin Aerospace who would one day become the deputy director of NASA.

A few year before the article was published, Trimble and Singer, lamenting that they might not be able to garner support from either industry or the government for a satellite program, hatched a plan to crowdfund the United States’ first fledgeling step into outer space.  Trimble said:

“We were going to sell shares, at five bucks per head.  In return, we were going to give the shareholders each a photograph of the Earth from outer space, taken by a camera in the satellite. That’s all they would get, but we felt that a lot of people should be interested in the view  and that we ought to be able to raise five or ten million dollars in this way – eenoughto send up a half dozen satellites, we thought.  But we never found time to organize the project.”

Fortunately for all of us who are fascinated with the U.S. space program in its many incarnations, the reason Trimble and Singer ran out of time was that the satellite project finally did gain financial backing due to the efforts of Trimble’s friend Andy Haley.  The American Rocket Society with Andy at its helm  had submitted two proposals to the National Science Foundation for satellite launch projects.  The first proposal was dismissed, but this didn’t dissuade the society who simply resubmitted the following year.  Finally, Andy received a head’s up that the project would happen, albeit under a different guise, as Project Vanguard.  Where did he receive the head’s up?  At a tea party for the Queen of England in Washington D.C. of course.  It could be that science was way more fun in the 1950′s!


AMSAT is launching three cube satellites, designated the Fox series, in partnership with American universities.  The universities will place science experiments on each of the Fox cubesats.  Each experiment will use the cubesat’s onboard transceiver to communicate data and control telemetry with ground based experimental stations.  Once the experiments are complete, the satellite will be switched into an FM repeater mode which amateur radio operators can make use of to reflect their communications to other operators stations located over the horizon, completely obliviating the need for something like Operation Smoke Puff.

A few of the experiments that will be launched on the Fox satellites are a gyroscopic MEMs experiment from Penn State to determine how much the satellite wobbles while in orbit, and an experiment from Vanderbilt, (see picture below), that will detect the flux of low energy protons that impact the satellite.  Low energy protons are a concern in outer space, where, without the Earth’s atmosphere acting as a shield, the protons can actually damage spaceborne electronics.

And the Pitch!

As it turns out, AMSAT needs an extra $125k to get the Fox-1c satellite into space.  If you’d like to help out, you can donate at  You can also follow all the news on the development of the little satellite at

References and Notes of Interest:

George Trimble on Nixon and the Plaque on the Moon:

Amateur Satellites that flew over the U.S. during the writing of this article:




The Satellite Magazine
Mallan, L. (1958). Space satellites (How to book 364). Greenwich, CT: Fawcett Publications

View Amateur Satellite Orbits in real-time

2 Responses to “Satellite Crowdfunding, Then and Now”

  1. Blog Review – Monday August 04, 2014 | Systems Design Engineering Community Says:

    [...] Hamilton Carter, who has been digging around magazine archives to find a wonderful example of retro crowdfunding proposed in a 1958 satellite project. This blog coincides with contemporary attempts to launch a satellite using crowdfunding. Just [...]

  2. Citizen Science and The Search for Sputnik IV: Part 1 | The Canonical Hamiltonian Says:

    [...] writing on the topic of 1950′s crowdfunding and satellites, I happened upon an interesting article about Operation Moonwatch.  Operation Moonwatch caught my [...]

Leave a Reply